There is a single accredited cooking school in Calgary, and it’s located at SAIT. To prepare themselves for the rigors of running a restaurant, the students operate one on campus, serving a popular lunch buffet and a prix-fixe five course dinner.
Over the years I’ve heard a ton of glowing reviews from satisfied patrons praising the atmosphere, food and prices, and given the two month long waiting list, I’ve never managed to go. This year would have been no different, but somehow the stars aligned, I managed to keep the reservation I made, and with some friends in tow we made our cold and icy way to an iconic destination.
My expectations were not sky high given that it’s a school, but we still had to cut a bit of slack for the ‘school’ part of the experience.
Service was very very earnest, if unpolished. Our waitress did not introduce herself for instance, nor did a bread basket appear until we noticed one at the other table and asked for it. Minor things to note in the grand scheme of things, but hey, they’re a school, they should know.
The menu was hit and miss, with fairly more hits than misses.
I started with ‘Duo of Woodstone Roasted Duck Breast and Duck Prosciutto’ – which was an absolutely lovely appetizer. The duck breast was roasted perfectly pink, it was skinless to avoid any issues with crispyness, and the duck proscuitto with baby potatoes was genius.
My friends’ ravioli was also very good, and the oysters were superb. She said the horseradish one was her favorite, and the salmon in the sushi was good, but she’s not sure what it had it do with the oysters. Presumably the continuation of a seafood theme? She said she’d rather just have another oyster.
With the soups we had a choice of a Hungarian/goulashy-type stew, or a roasted chestnut soup. Both my friends chose the stew, and in the interests of variety I was the lone chestnut soup eater. And I had the last laugh, as the stew was so so, but my chestnut soup was superb. It was the one dish of the night worthy of hyperbole, as it was chestnutty, creamy, ever so slightly sweet and earthy and perfect. That’s the one dish I’d love to replicate at home.
All of us pulled an idiot, and got the tomato salad with bocconcini in JANUARY, which ranks right up there with a brick wall for intelligent, because it was as bland and flavorless as you’d expect. I’m sorry, but unless you have a greenhouse on yer roof, you should have no business serving tomatoes in the winter. Why could this not have been the root vegetable salad with some pretentions of being in season? Better yet, why did we order it? We’ll file it under mental mystery and move on.
For the main, I could not resist the rack of lamb. The lamb itself was perfect – rosy, well seasoned, with a perfectly good sauce and a delicious polenta cake. The only bad element was the tomato-olive chutney with manchego cheese. It was much grosser than it sounds, and everyone pronounced it inedible, as nothing meshed. The bland tomatoes, salty olives, raw onions created totally discordant notes that went neither with the lamb nor each other.
My friends ‘bouillabaise marseille’ was also not very good, with odd broth, overcooked seafood, here’s her quote: “Steak cooked to my liking and the turf part sucked. They cut up the lobster and cooked it with mushrooms in a ton of miso paste and I ended up with a bowl of salty, buttery miso lobster stew. Did not enjoy this!! ” Having had a bite, I concur entirely.
My other friends Medallion of Beef was a much better choice, although she proclaimed the beef to be average, and the sides excellent. The photo alas, did not turn out, but did not look that different from my rack of lamb.
For dessert, here is my usual caveat: I’m not a dessert person, and neither are my friends. Therefore we are uniquely unqualified to gauge dessert-worthyness of many things. However, venturing boldly into restaurant reviews, here goes:
The most FUN dessert in the world also happened to be the tastiest of the three:
There was some hazelnut ice cream going on there that was fabulous, although the banana chunks had no business being there.
The wee pumpkin creme brulee was waaay too sweet, but the little cookie was good with ice cream.
This dessert had so many elements going on that it didn’t know if it was coming or going – pistachio ice cream good, whatever it’s sitting on – sweet, corn – weird? It contributed nothing, and neither did the caramel popcorn for that matter.
And finally we were feted with some last minute chocolatey bites, all of which we were too full to try, except for that toasted marshmalow thingie which was as good as you remember from camping.
To conclude this wordy review, it’s a good deal for $44.00 – four courses and more dessert than any table can handle. Would I repeat it? Nope. That was the table consensus, so I’m not alone. I guess if you live in the area… but no, you have to make reservations welll ahead, so I’m not sure under what circumstances I’d go back. Life’s too short to eat anything but great food, so keeping that in mind, I’d give Highwood a solid 3/5.
PS – I also promise not to subject you to anymore crappy iphone photos in restaurants. At least I’ll try.
Highwood Dining Room
1301 – 16th Avenue NW
403.284.8615 Ext. 2
403.284.8615 Ext. 2
Or Open Table for Reservations